Tuesday, April 24, 2018

MOOM PITCHER REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! THE COUNTERFEITERS (1948) STARRING HUGH BEAUMONT AND LON CHANEY JR.!


Had THE COUNTERFEITERS been made a year or two earlier, it would probably have been a PRC release and have had a somewhat lower budget. It’s got a PRC star—Hugh Beaumont—and was directed by the prolific PRC regular Sam Newfield (under his Peter Stewart alias). It was produced by Maurice Conn, who made several excellent series for his Ambassador-Conn Pictures in the mid-1930’s: a group of Mountie films based on the stories of James Oliver Curwood and starring Kermit Maynard (brother of Ken); and a group of action-adventure films teaming Frankie Darro and Kane Richmond (such as the great ANYTHING FOR A THRILL). This was a comeback of a sort for Conn, and he was more than up to the task. The producers managed to get this picked up by 20th Century Fox’s B-unit as a bottom-of-the-bill programmer, which got them a much wider audience and better financing although this is still a very low-budget film—it’s just a better-made very low-budget film.

Although Hugh Beaumont is best-known for the LEAVE IT TO BEAVER TV series and his Michael Shayne detective films at PRC, he played the heavy in a number of films, quite convincingly I might add (and for someone who was a minister in his off-screen life, he should get extra points for being so good as a brutal heel!). As with the best B-crime films, this does not waste a second in getting into gear. It starts on an airplane where a British guy is sitting next to Hugh Beaumont, who is playing solitaire and cheating against himself! Beaumont sees the other man catching him cheating and suggests they play Rummy for a penny a point. When the Brit loses, he pays Beaumont in counterfeit money, pointing out that he knows that Beaumont is in that racket and he’s got a deal for him. It turns out the Brit is a British treasury agent, working with the US authorities on an investigation. The Brit is found out and beaten brutally by Beaumont (in the film’s first seven minutes!). The rest of the film follows the cat-and-mouse game of Beaumont’s gang and the federal authorities.

The real highlight of the gang is Lon Chaney Jr. doing another variation on his OF MICE AND MEN signature role as Lennie, this time as “Louie,” the tough but dim-witted member of Beaumont’s gang. And he’s paired up with the great George O’Hanlon (star of the Joe McDoakes comedy shorts and later the voice of George Jetson) in a series of funny sequences, including an extended one at the horse racing track. Getting these two old pros together to do their thing was a brilliant move—B programmer producers know that a reliable cast can take a modest-budgeted project and make it sparkle. Do you REALLY need a big budget when you’ve got Lon Chaney Jr. and George O’Hanlon trading quips and doing a kind of crime-film variation on Laurel and Hardy? Of course not….just block the scene and turn on the camera. There’s even a great in-joke where Beaumont asks O’Hanlon, “so you want to be a gangster?” making reference to the “So You Want To Be….” titles of the Joe McDoakes comedy shorts. That, my friend, is entertainment at its finest.

You can watch THE COUNTERFEITERS for free on You Tube as of this writing. This film packs a lot into its 70 minutes (and had it been a PRC film, it would probably have been 10 minutes shorter, perhaps robbing us of some of the priceless Chaney-O’Hanlon comedy sequences!), has a great supporting cast, most of whom you’ll recognize (although Robert Kent is going under his Douglas Blackley alias, for some reason), and moves quickly in spite of having a number of different characters, all of whom are fleshed out nicely. THE COUNTERFEITERS is a fine example of how to make a B-crime programmer, and if you are a fan of either Chaney or O’Hanlon (or better yet, both!), it’s a must see….or at minimum, you could always fast forward until you hit their scenes together, which go right up until the finale.

1 comment:

J. D. King said...

Sheesh.